Camilla's Fate by Judith A. Lansdowne
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-5688-5
*****
Wow! What a great read! I could hardly wait to finish Camilla's Fate, but only because I wanted to rush off to the computer and tell all the TRR readers that here is a quirky, fun, riveting Regency read, not to be missed if you like something different. The story is fairly complex, and the readers will have to put some effort into it because much of the dialogue is Cockney-style cant, but if you're willing to limber up a few extra brain cells, it's worth every minute.

Miss Camilla Quinn is traveling with her cousins, David and Aurora, when they are stopped by a band of highwaymen. During the ensuing robbery, David's arm is broken and Camilla loses her jewels. But the mesmerizing leader, Captain Jason Fate, captures her interest. He seems just as smitten with this impudent beauty, enough so that he drops his mask and she gets a good look at his face.

Jason is indeed a thief and a con artist. His language is straight out of London's East End (here the reader will need a little patience until it becomes familiar, then it's fairly effortless and often funny). He is of unknown parentage. The highwayman profession is getting way too risky, so he reluctantly falls in with a scheme to impersonate a duke's long-lost grandson, which will end up making him a cousin of sorts to Camilla.

Camilla and Jason meet again when he moves into the house across the square from her family. Oddly enough, her family seems to accept Jason's claim. He is the spitting image of her late Uncle John, who supposedly died without marrying. Camilla decides not to turn Jason over to the authorities, even though she recognizes him as the notorious Captain Fate. Instead, she will help him become accustomed to Society, not an easy task. Jason's speech instantly marks him as an outcast. He can neither read nor write. And he has the most unusual friends, including a whole family of urchins for whom he has apparently assumed a guardianship of sorts.

Well. It takes a master storyteller indeed to create a lovable hero out of an illiterate thief, but Judith Lansdowne has done so with ease. Frankly, I adored Jason. And Camilla was his perfect foil -- independent, intelligent, headstrong without being foolish. She wants to remain single and write novels. She creates her first novel with Jason as the thinly-veiled hero. And she loses her heart to him, just as he does to her.

The secondary characters are just as much fun as the two leads. There's Clare Lilleheun, a good-natured suitor of Camilla's who remains her friend even after she's turned him down twice. Her cousins, David and Aurora find Jason's friendliness and honesty irresistible, and are soon his strong supporters. And there is a surprise in the works for the readers.

Oh, don't worry. There's no magical transformation here. No, that would be patently implausible and not at all interesting. Instead, the author chooses to keep Jason in character throughout, and this reader was charmed. The whole book was delightful.

Buy Camilla's Fate. Read it. Tell me what you think. And somebody, please, mail me Judith A. Lansdowne's backlist!

--Cathy Sova


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